TORONTO (Reuters) - Kawhi Leonard said on Monday he is excited to join the Toronto Raptors but the team’s prized off season acquisition failed to shed any light on whether he plans to stay long term with the NBA’s sole Canadian franchise.
Leonard, speaking publicly for the first time since he was acquired by Toronto in July as part of a blockbuster deal with the San Antonio Spurs, is expected by many experts to leave the team next off season as a free agent.
“My focus is on this year, striving to win a championship,” Leonard, who was officially introduced as a member of his new club on Monday, told reporters. “If you look over the future, you are going to trip over the present.”
Leonard, who spent the first seven years of his NBA career with the Spurs, said he was “excited” with his trade to Toronto - which he described as a “great city that loves basketball.”
A two-time All-Star who was named the NBA’s top defensive player in 2015 and 2016, Leonard appeared in only nine games for the Spurs last season due to a leg injury that led to a rift with the team.
Leonard, who helped the Spurs win a championship in 2014 and was named that year’s NBA Finals MVP, was ultimately sent to Toronto along with Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round draft pick.
Despite not offering any indication of whether he plans to settle into Toronto for the long haul, the 27-year-old small forward did say his commitment to the Raptors will not be compromised regardless of how long he stays.
“As long as I have on a jersey I want to play basketball,” Leonard told reporters. “I came here with an open mind. I want to do great things so I’m going to make sure that I put my full effort on the court each and every night.”
Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who was seated between Leonard and Green, offered his own response when the players were asked how they felt about changing the perception of both the Raptors and the city of Toronto.
“The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone,” said Ujiri. “I think that’s old and we should move past that.
“Believe in this city, believe in yourselves.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar